If you’re not old enough to remember the summer of 1976, it really doesn’t matter because the summer of 2018 is proving to be pretty spectacular, and highly reminiscent of that season over four decades ago. Whilst ‘playing out’ had all of our attention back then, this year’s summer is wowing us with its colourful magnificence and wonderful edible produce.
It’s the edible produce that we want to talk about here, and not just because it’s the foundation of the food we eat ourselves, as well as the lunches we provide for guests, but also because we’re starting to really understand the immense value of these natural foods. If you watch TV, you’re likely to have noticed that in the past couple of months both of the major channels, BBC1 and ITV have had a thing or two to say about diabetes and carbohydrates: The Big Crash Diet Experiment – BBC1, The Truth About Carbs – BBC1 and the ITV documentary The Fast Fix: Diabetes. It was encouraging to see pretty unequivocal evidence of the role of ‘modern’ foods in creating or contributing to chronic illness, primarily type 2 diabetes. Less inspiring was the limited (or almost total lack) of references to the scope and excellence of natural foods. Whilst that part is disappointing to us, it’s not a criticism levelled at those who created and contributed to these programmes, they were, in fact pushing boundaries by revealing that diabetes can be reversed, and without medication.
The lack of reverence for natural food is cultural; we’ve had decades of the promotion of pre-packaged, convenience, processed foods whilst natural, just-as-they-are fruits and vegetables have been left to wither in the public consciousness with no marketing budget to sustain them. But there are signs of a revival, plant-based foods are capturing the imagination and for a variety of reasons, all of them uplifting, but based at least in part on what we no longer want: poor health, damage to the environment and massive commoditization of animals. This approach can leave us feeling that it’s all about ‘giving up’, ‘doing without’ and a loss of pleasure. Research and knowledge has come on in leaps and bounds since we as a species were eating only whatever was naturally available to us, and we do now know that fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices are immensely beneficial to our health but in all likelihood, the ‘natural food’ story is far more exciting than the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that we are aware of.
In order to adapt to modern life with all its rapid change, perhaps we need to fall in love again with what we’ve always had; think of the ‘plain’, quiet boy or girl at school who reappears as a vibrant and self-assured adult with revelations and insights about life that have us captivated. This could be our new relationship with natural food. We almost forget that natural foods of all kinds, but especially plants, have sustained humanity since the very beginning; if they weren’t ‘that good’, we wouldn’t be here! Unlike the analogy above, it isn’t the food that’s changed, it’s us, or at least our knowledge, the knowledge (proof?) we seem to need to convince ourselves that these are appropriate foods to eat. And the sooner we recognise the arrogance of our constant evaluation of nature along with our compulsion to deconstruct and then extract whatever we deem to be a key factor, the better. Every item of natural, plant-based food operates as a symphony that our bodies know exactly how to appreciate (providing they aren’t in a state of disharmony), and it always has done.
Has science revealed everything we need to know about natural food? We can be confident that it hasn’t. So while the research continues, revealing perhaps only a fraction of what nature knows, eat those brightly coloured vegetables and luxuriate in the fabulous sun-drenched fruits that are so abundant at this time of year; they’ve kept us alive and thriving as a species, we’re still here, because they are ‘that good’.